Social misfits and group interviews: Yup, it's the startup interview circuit
Why it's not always you who'll do the rejecting
A lot of people have either worked with or know someone who worked at a startup. Lots have good experiences while some have bad experiences – and they have the scars to prove it. Their stories are funny, odd and sometimes downright weird.
I have had an on-off relationship with startups ever since I left university. One thing is for sure: the crazies undoubtedly rule the roost. But what's it like inside a startup for a non-coder?
The nice thing about startups is that whilst the hours may be appalling, it beats big business hands down. There is little, if any, red tape. The hours tend to be very flexible, as does the work location. No waiting days and days for approval to do the smallest tasks.
No meetings about meetings – generally. If you are the “just do it” kind of person it could suit you down to the ground, and come with big rewards if it plays out well.
One of the key facts to bear in mind is that not all startups make it big. You are taking a risk. The number of failed startups hugely outweighs those that make it. Startups are ten a penny. To motivate staff, the companies usually give employees stock options in lieu of top-tier wages. It does mean in the beginning, though, there is minimal outlay as stock options are a cheap way to entice staff without risking the capital currently in the bank.
This is all very nice, but the one critical thing you must ask yourself is: “Are these guys likely to pay me, on time, every pay day?”
The news is frequently awash with horror stories of people not being paid for weeks. It should come as stating the obvious but everyone wants to get paid.
I knew this already, but hearing the words “we should be pretty good now; we went to the wall three times in the last three years but now we have a new backer” is a) not the thing to tell potential employees, and b) something that doesn’t really need broadcasting.
That statement kind of sealed the deal; I thanked the guy and walked out. I may have a small mortgage but I also enjoy eating from time to time.
Pointing out the more unique staff is equally alarming, as though lack of social skills or even hygiene is something to behold.
Conversely, attending a two-hour interview where the only thing up for discussion is how good the company is sets alarm bells ringing. Not one question about me or what I do. Pointing out the more unique staff: “Oh, that is John, he came to us from the security services” is equally alarming, as is drawing attention to those lacking social skills or even basic hygiene, as if that is something to uphold.
“Think differently” had nothing on this guy. Scruffy, with a huge beard; nothing he was wearing matched, even down to having day-glo pink-and-green shoelaces in his brown shoes. Apparently this guy was the top coder.
Doctor to half-dead servers
With big risk comes big reward; let’s be clear about this. Rarely, very rarely, is it funded by the owner or debt financed. In all the startups I worked at the backers were usually career moneymen, otherwise known as venture capitalists. They are ruthless. Fortunately, as a mere cog, you won’t deal with these guys.
Being the only sysadmin in a start up is tough. You are a techie. You will be expected to be able to fix any issues you encounter, and fast. You need to understand what your developers are doing and, at a high level, how the applications hang together. You need to be able to translate developer speak into something sysadmins can work with.
Each startup is different and requires a different skillset based on how the application is being developed. DevOps, the new must-have, dovetails nicely if you have experience. Granted, your new employers may want you to “do” DevOps but the spaghetti you will be presented with will tell the true tale: such as half-patched, half-dead servers that the devs got working for just long enough to do what they needed to do.